From oil to green renewable energies

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PROBLEM
Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – account for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Made of decomposed carbon-based organisms that died millions of years ago, fossil fuels are extracted from deposits deep in the earth. The processes of extracting them, transporting them, burning them for energy, and using them to manufacture plastic or steel – and a myriad of other goods – all contribute to global warming. Fossil fuels are non-renewable and currently supply around 80 per cent of the world’s energy.

To keep global warming below catastrophic levels (there are current estimates of 4-7 degrees Celsius warming with continued extraction and burning of fossil fuels), the IPCC advises carbon dioxide emissions must be reduced to zero by 2050.

Despite repeated global promises to reduce carbon emissions (e.g., Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, COP26), analysis of oil and gas companies suggests we are currently on track to produce more than double the amount of coal, oil and gas than is recommended for us to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Profit from oil and gas companies goes to the stock exchange and makes executives rich. A handful of the world’s biggest oil firms are projected to report profits of US$200 billion from 2022. This money goes to the shareholders rather than to the public that pays for the fuel, in a blatant transfer of public money to private fortunes.

Oil and gas companies are known to falsify their public image. In 2019, BP spent millions on an advertising campaign about its low-carbon energy and cleaner natural gas. In fact, more than 96 per cent of BP’s annual expenses remain on oil and gas.

Oil spills in recent years have been devastating to our oceans’ ecosystem. And while natural gas is often promoted as a cleaner energy source than coal and oil, it accounts for a fifth of the world’s total carbon emissions.

Gas pipelines contribute to deforestation and loss of habitat. Hailed as one of the largest private sector projects in Canadian history, a $6.6 billion pipeline in northeastern B.C. will carry natural gas, obtained by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) to a $40-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal for export to Asia. Construction of the 670-kilometre pipeline will cross about 625 waterways, including vital habitat for salmon.

Poorer countries desperate for revenue often get trapped in debt, entering agreements that sacrifice their own resources and environment. Ecuador gets 19 per cent of its revenue from heavy crude oil sales. As drilling and sales increased, global markets allowed Ecuador to borrow against this perceived asset. Yet citizens of the country have no safe or running water, endure contaminated rivers, no sanitation, despite many living next to profitable drilling sites. After 30 years of oil extraction and devastation to the rainforest ecosystem, the human inhabitants are reported to suffer social, physical, and psychological damage.

For 10 years, Ecuador sought international help to prevent oil drilling in what may be the most biologically diverse place on the planet, Yasuní National Park, a 9,800-square-kilometre area containing more than 380 known species of fish and 590 identified bird species. This UNESCO Biosphere Reserve has, in one single hectare, more than 100,000 different insect species (more than all of North America), and in 2.5 acres it contains more tree species than the U.S. and Canada combined. The park is also home to two Waorani clans, whose traditional isolated lifestyle is threatened. But the promises of international relief didn’t materialize, and in May 2022, Ecuador’s president announced plans to double Ecuador’s oil production to one million barrels per day by 2025.